Start of the Semester

This semester I have been assigning reading homework. Students have to answer vocabulary questions and outline procedures that will be covered in the next class period. Essentially, I am having them read ahead. I also include a handful of warm-up problems that focus on the prerequisites for that section. (I get mine from a publisher workbook that goes with the textbook. On MyMathLab it is available under Instructor Resources. I am sure other textbooks/publishers provide similar material.)

I give my students the first 5 minutes of class to discuss their answers with their groups. I then take attendance, one group at a time, and ask for one of the answers. It is working out to be a great way to get students to warm up for class, and my classes seem to be more participatory this semester.

-George

I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. If there’s a particular topic you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website – http://georgewoodbury.com.

January 30, 2012 at 9:53 am Leave a comment

Geogebra – Graphing Absolute Value Functions

I added two new pages for graphing absolute value functions, complete with sliders for h & k.

You can find them here: http://georgewoodbury.com/geogebra.html

– George

January 29, 2012 at 5:31 pm Leave a comment

Final Exam Review Videos

I have two sets of final exam review videos on YouTube.

The first playlist, for Elementary Algebra, can be found here:  http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCE703DB5743508D7

The second playlist, for Intermediate Algebra, can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL15AA6E8E21593D3D

Please feel free to share with students and instructors who can use these.

George

December 5, 2011 at 5:40 pm 2 comments

In Defense of Factoring

I must say that I was rather surprised when an instructor at AMATYC suggested that we no longer teach factoring of polynomials in elementary algebra. I mean, to me factoring is about as essential a skill as breathing. But I thought about it, and although I’m not in agreement, I believe that it is important that we critically examine the topics we teach and make sure that they are still necessary.

The number one reason instructors give me for not teaching factoring is that we can use the quadratic formula to solve ANY quadratic equation. While that is true, that’s not enough for me. Solving quadratic equations by using the quadratic formula is often not the most efficient technique. Many students make arithmetic or calculator errors when finding the solutions. If a student can factor the expression, the solutions flow without trouble. Would you want to solve the equation (x+7)(x-5)=0 by multiplying the two binomials and then using the quadratic formula? How about the equation (x-8)^2=-20? Square x-8, add 20, then use the quadratic formula? Hardly the most efficient way to do it.

It’s true that students taking an introductory statistics course will not have to factor a polynomial, but that is not a reason to remove factoring from the curriculum. Students who struggle in introductory statistics do not struggle because of their mathematical deficiencies, they struggle because they have not developed their critical thinking abilities. They struggle to determine which hypothesis test is appropriate because they do not know how to take a look at the facts presented and determine which tool can efficiently be used in this situation. Learning to factor polynomials, and knowing when to use factoring, help to develop critical thinking skills.

Could there be some compromise? Absolutely. Factoring trinomials whose leading coefficient is not equal to 1 is often tedious and time-consuming. When we reach intermediate algebra, I tell my students to use a 10-second rule when it comes to factoring (and jumping to the quadratic formula). I still think that this type of factoring helps to develop intuition, but I could understand leaving it out. Perhaps we could leave out sum/difference of cubes? My students seem to like them, but they wouldn’t shed a tear. I teach them because being able to identify polynomial “types” is beneficial to students.

One argument that does not carry as much weight with me is “We need to factor in order to work with rational expressions and equations.” I’m not so sure that rational expressions could be pushed off until college algebra. It is a great way to practice factoring (as many as 4 polynomials per problem). It is a great topic for developing critical thinking – do I need a common denominator, am I trying to get rid of the denominators, …

One comment that really hit me was one made by “footmassage”: “It (factoring) should be in the air throughout whether your solving, writing lines in point-slope form, rewriting fractions, simplifying rational functions, manipulating transcendental functions, etc.  It is an essential basic tool that should be developed over a course(s) for fluency.” (Check it out here.)

Another comment, from the AMATYC session, that summed it up for me was “If we take out all of the topics that we have mentioned here today, I’m afraid we will be left with students who will be unable to think at all.” (Paraphrased, speaker unknown) That’s what we need to keep in mind as we transition into mathematics in the 21st century. We are not just teaching mathematics, we are teaching students to reason and think. I fear the day that mathematics is taught to students in the same way that students are taught to use word processing software.

I do promise to keep an open mind, and vow to always examine whether topics should still be taught.

-George

I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. If there’s a particular topic you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website – http://georgewoodbury.com.

November 21, 2011 at 2:55 pm 2 comments

Should We Be Teaching Polynomial Factoring In Elementary Algebra?

I was at a conference last week, and factoring polynomials was under fire from several instructors. Is this still a valuable skill? Is it important to cover factoring? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(I’m putting together a blog with my thoughts on the issue.)

-George

I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. If there’s a particular topic you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website – http://georgewoodbury.com.

November 17, 2011 at 12:00 pm 4 comments

2011 AMATYC Wrap Up

This year’s annual AMATYC conference in Austin just wrapped up and, as usual, was very inspiring. One topic that was presented several times was the idea of incorporating simulations to teach hypothesis testing. I have used this recently in my own statistics class, and I can report that it helps students to conceptually understand hypothesis testing in general and p-values as well.

I will be trying to recruit several AMATYC presenters to share their work by writing a guest blog. Stay tuned!

-George

November 14, 2011 at 4:35 pm Leave a comment

Doing Homework

Sorry for the lack of blogging – this has been a busy semester. One project I have been working on is incorporating elements of game design into the grading policy for my intermediate algebra class. Students earn points on each exam based upon their exam score and their homework/quiz status.

Students who have scores of at least 90% on each homework assignment and at least 70% on each quiz are said to have satisfactory scores. (I probably need a better name for that than “satisfactory”.) Students in this category have done pretty well when it comes to passing the exams.

  • Test 1: 33 out of 38 (87%)
  • Test 2: 24 out of 28 (86%)
  • Test 3: 19 out of 25 (76%)

Students who do not have satisfactory scores have not performed as well on the exams.

  • Test 1: 7 out of 9 (78%)
  • Test 2: 13 out of 19 (68%)
  • Test 3: 11 out of 21 (52%)

So, students doing the homework are doing better on exams. Now I understand that I cannot go on to claim that doing the homework leads to better performance, but there is an association here. One thing I am concerned about is that the number of students earning satisfactory scores is dropping as the semester progresses. However, the fourth exam is today and it appears that there will be 32 students with satisfactory scores and 14 without – a good sign.

In upcoming blogs I will try to explain the game design dynamics, and include student thoughts on the policies of the class.

– George

I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. If there’s a particular topic you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website – http://georgewoodbury.com.

 

October 26, 2011 at 9:43 am Leave a comment

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